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Subtitled "Is There For Honest Poverty," Burns's song "A Man's a Man for a That" is not only sung on a routine basis in Scotland's Parliament but also is considered the national anthem of common man:
The honest man, tho' e'er sae poor,/Is king o' men for a' that. . . .
The central theme of Burns's poem is that common man--despite his "hamely fare" (basic food) and "hoddin grey" (clothes of coarse grey wool)--is equal in value to the richest person in the country.
In the third stanza, for example, Burns focuses his criticism on the aristocracy:
Tho' hundreds worship at his word,/He's but a cuif for a' that./. . .His ribband, star, an' a' that,/The man of independent mind,/He looks an' laughs at a' that.
Someone like a lord, at the top of the social ladder and even though he wears the "ribband" (a sash, perhaps the Order of the Garter) and "star" (the emblem of his knighthood), becomes an object of ridicule to a sensible, intelligent (but common) man. By taking aim at the aristocracy, and elevating the common man above them, Burns is performing an act of revolution--turning the order of the social and political structure upside down.
Burns takes on the ruling class directly in the fourth stanza in which he says that even though a prince can create a knight, a marquis, duke--essentially all the elements of a feudal system--Burns reminds the ruling class that
. . . an honest man's aboon his might--/Guid faith, he mauna fa' that!/For a' that, an' a' that,/Their dignities, an' a' that,. . .
In essence, Burns argues that the ruler can create his court, and men cannot blame them for their sense of dignity, but, as he has argued from the first lines, the common man with intelligence and a sense of his own value is a "higher rank than a' that."
The last stanza is essentially a prayer that someday the comman man's innate intelligence and sense of value will become the things that the world values above all else and, perhaps more important, that the common man, with his "sense and worth" will unite for the common good.
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